COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- For a game with such a nail-biting ending, the contest between the Maryland and Purdue men's basketball teams may well have been decided fairly early in the second half during the Terps' 73-72 loss to the Boilermakers Feb. 4.
A tick more than six minutes into the second half, Maryland junior forward Michal Cekovsky was defended well on the baseline but found freshman guard Kevin Huerter streaking to the hoop for a thunderous dunk to put Maryland up, 52-40. It capped a 16-6 run by the Terps to start the half and Purdue head coach Matt Painter called timeout.
Maryland, though, had a chance to stretch its lead after Painter's timeout but failed to do so. Huerter and junior guard Melo Trimble missed threes on back-to-back possessions, and senior forward Damonte Dodd missed a putback opportunity on the latter possession. The next three possessions for the Terps included missed 3-pointers by Huerter and junior guard Jared Nickens, and a missed layup in transition by freshman guard Anthony Cowan.
That helped Purdue quickly turn a 12-point deficit into a 52-51 deficit, with the help of two 3-pointers by guard Ryan Cline, a three by guard Dakota Mathias and a bucket by forward Caleb Swanigan.
"The one stretch where I think they got up  -- I thought that was the game right there because we were just bad defensively and they just missed three open shots," Painter said. "They could've knocked that game and sent it to 16, 17 points right there.
"I thought that was really, really important in the game because it wasn't like we played great defense. Actually, it was awful. They just missed wide-open shots."
The game flowed back and forth for the rest of the afternoon. The score was tied four times in the second half and the lead changed five times. Maryland lived at the free throw line down the stretch, with its last field goal coming courtesy of a Cekovsky dunk with 7:38 to play.
The Terps' crunch time offense ran through Trimble, who was 14-of-15 from the line for the game. Trimble was effective in drawing contact or finding teammates -- he had five assists in the day -- through ball screens at the top of the key.
"We think Melo's really effective any time he's in a ball screen at any point during the game," Huerter said. "A lot of times at the end of games, you see he's in a ball screen. At that point in the game, we knew we'd have a mismatch with some of their bigs [who] we thought we could take advantage of in ball screens. There's some times Melo in a ball screen is our best offense."
However, Purdue wouldn't go away. Led by Caleb Swanigan -- who had 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting and grabbed 10 boards -- the Boilermakers remained in contact with the Terps throughout crunch time. A key moment came when a Dodd free throw pushed Maryland's lead to 70-66 with 1:40 left. But a huge 3-pointer by Swanigan made the score 70-69 with 1:31 left.
The two teams traded a pair of free throws in the next two possessions -- Trimble for the Terps, center Isaac Haas for the Boilermakers -- setting up Maryland with a 72-71 lead with 38 seconds to play. Trimble held the ball, waited for his ball screen from Dodd, got it, but his jumper with 16 seconds left fell short. It would've pushed the Terps' lead to three.
"What a great shot. It's your best player. Guy's been unbelievable for three years," Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. "Got to the foul line 15 times. He was terrific. He was the reason we were in the game. I loved it. It was a new play we haven't really shown and he got the ball six feet away."
Purdue's final possession was complicated by the fact that Swanigan had fouled out. Instead, Painter had guard Carsen Edwards drive. He was forced right of the hoop and into an awkward shot, but drew contact by freshman forward Justin Jackson with about two seconds left. He hit both free throws.
Purdue's final four points were scored from the line. "We allowed them to beat us at the foul line instead of earning it down there at the end," Turgeon said.
The Terps' inbounds pass was heaved past half-court and intended for Dodd, but was picked off by Haas. However, Haas traveled and left Maryland 0.5 seconds with the ball to be inbounded along the baseline near the basket. Nickens, the inbounder, found Huerter for a clean look in the corner, but it wasn't to be.
"That was the play that was drawn up, was to get me a shot," Huerter said. "Before, I knew I'd have to get it off quick. For me, thinking about it right now, I'm not mad I missed. I didn't shoot it the way I wanted it to. It didn't feel like the shots throughout the game that were taken. That's what I'm most frustrated with."
More notes on Maryland's loss...
-On the bright side for the Terps, Cekovsky played the most minutes (13) he's played since returning from a left ankle injury. He was energetic on both ends of the floor, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and had six blocks on the other end. Six blocks are a career high for the Slovak.
"Everyone knows that Ceko can do that on a daily basis," Dodd said. "We're just getting back Ceko healthy and he's just getting his mindset back right and just being more confident."
-All of Maryland's big men had to rotate in and out of the game to compete with Swanigan and Haas. Swanigan is as polished of a big man as you're going to find in college hoops, while Haas is a mountain of a man that's hard to match up with. Dodd played 22 minutes; Cekovsky, 13; sophomore forward Ivan Bender, six; senior forward L.G. Gill, three.
"I thought we did a good job defensively. Swanigan's numbers, they are what they are," Huerter said. "But I thought our bigs played really well on him. It seemed like every single possession they got a post touch and they had to play one-on-one defense. We were rotating bigs purposely because we like to be a deep team."
-Maryland is now 20-3 overall and 8-2 in the Big Ten. The Terps' next game is at Penn State Feb. 7. The Nittany Lions (12-12) fell at home to Rutgers Feb. 4.